Oh boy. These buzzwords have been the topic of many YouTube videos, articles, and internet rants over the past few years, maybe even longer. Whether it’s people getting angry at how MANY women are on screen, or people getting angry at the LACK of women represented, no one can find a truly satisfying answer for how women are, and should be, portrayed in stories.
I personally find this rather fascinating. Why? Well, I think women have been represented okay…just not always treated well. There are a lot of people who act as though we’ve had NO good female characters, and anytime there is a diverse, interesting, or strong woman character, they just don’t seem to be good enough to those complainers. I think that’s taking it a little too far. We have had many wonderful women characters, and no, they don’t have to be butt-kicking, gun-wielding warriors to be strong, interesting, or well-written. Have you ever tried reading or watching Pride and Prejudice? Do you think Elizabeth Bennet is weak? As for female action heroes, when was the last time you watched Alien, or the sequel? Was Ripley not the star and spotlight of a pioneer in Sci-Fi horror, really the first of its kind? Now a-days, when we have a female lead, someone needs to grab a bullhorn, and announce it to the whole world, as if it’s the first time it’s been done. Look out everyone, Captain Marvel is a woman! Yeah, we know…
This is not to say that there aren’t those dumb, sexist people who think women shouldn’t be as represented as men, or can’t carry a franchise (they also seem to forget that the Alien franchise exists). I’d say though they are few in number. Now, before you argue with me, let me explain something else. There are a lot of people who aren’t necessarily complaining that women are in franchises and that there are strong, female-led movies or shows, but they ARE complaining about what I mentioned earlier- the loud announcement that goes along with it. And for that matter, the fact that sometimes they seem to be there for representation, and NO other reason. And those critiques are made by men and women. A lot of women, including myself, are not fans of people like Elizabeth Banks telling everyone that the reason her Charlie’s Angels reboot failed was because people don’t want to see women, or something to that effect. If people don’t want to see women, then why did Little Women get nominated for best picture, Wonder Woman become the best DC movie to come out in recent years, and one of the most iconic characters in cinema is Princess Leia, from a franchise that arguably has had more male than female fans over the years?
Now to moving on to writing characters…yes, characters need to be well-written, no matter what gender they are. If a character can be replaced by Siri, Alexa, or a lamp, you’re doing it wrong. That being said, if the female character can be replaced by a model wearing a bikini, you’re REALLY doing it wrong. Characters aren’t there to be looked at. They are there to be someone. Characters need a purpose. They need personalities. I want to get away from the term STRONG female character, not because I don’t think women are strong or should be seen as that, but because what people ultimately want, are well-written characters. Regardless of gender, make characters strong, weak, in between…make sure they are SOMEONE, not something, not one trait, but someONE.
A lot of people argued that Rey was too strong. Yes, there were the few that were angry that she was a female, arguing that they made her female just because of feminism and stuff. But I’d say that even if she was REALLY strong, she did have a personality. She wasn’t too brooding, she didn’t just say cookie-cutter lines…she wanted to save someone that at first she wanted to defeat, which I think is interesting…and she was likable. Don’t take someone’s flaws and define the character by those flaws, and in the same way, don’t take one trait and make that define the character. And that goes for whether you are studying or writing someone.
Now earlier I said I think women weren’t always treated well. That’s mostly because so many women on screen are there to be looked at…not to add anything but their bodies. We are stepping in the right direction by getting away from that, but at the cost of a lot of divided opinions. Men get angry about it, and sometimes women take it too far, by saying that men wanting to look at women is inherently wrong. I’m not here to debate the nature of men and women, but you need a middle ground. It’s okay to have good looking characters. I’ll bring up Pride and Prejudice again. Elizabeth had the hots for Mr. Darcy because he was good looking. Where are the people angry about that? On the other hand, if you take a character and completely ignore their physical traits, you’re taking away part of them.
The main character of my book series, Anne, is striking. She doesn’t see herself as beautiful to begin with, because of her weight. But that’s not all there is to her. She’s powerful, she has a powerful family, she’s kind and compassionate, so much so that her magic works so well because of her compassion. These are things you learn throughout the first and second book. She’s not perfect by any means. Did I make her female just for the sake of diversity? No, but I do relate to her. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with women wanting more females, written BY females, because we do want someone to look up to, to relate to. So don’t erase the male presence in stories, but do make sure that the women present are people…not mannequins. And not the “female character.” She has a name, she has a personality…and she has flaws.